Matthew Tkachuk is an all-star veteran, with pictures to prove it

Brian Burke and Elliotte Friedman hand out their awards for the NHL All-Star break, debating who the most improved player has been this season and which team has been the biggest surprise.

CALGARY – The last thing Matthew Tkachuk will be at this weekend’s NHL All-Star Game is star-struck.

Although it’s the first time he’s been asked to play alongside the NHL’s very best, this, by no means, is his first all-star appearance.

The 22-year-old Flames winger has crates of photo evidence to prove it.

As sons of five-time all-star Keith Tkachuk, Matthew and younger brother Brady relished the opportunity to tag along several times for the game’s mid-season celebration.

Revelling as rink rats who knew where the gum, tape and other treasures were in every NHL dressing room, they spent all-star weekends loading up on autographs and photo ops with a who’s who of the hockey world.

Never far behind them was mom, Chantal, the family’s official photographer, who doggedly chronicled the kids’ encounters with everyone from Mark Messier, Shea Weber and Chris Pronger to the Staal brothers Shane Doan and Sidney Crosby.

“My wife is crazy when it comes to those things – she makes us take pictures,” chuckled Keith.

“I don’t know what we did with all the pictures from his bedroom, but he has so many. The last all-star game I played in was Montreal (in 2009) and he got to take pictures with (Jarome) Iginla and (Jonathan) Toews and (Patrick) Kane and guys he plays against now.

“So, it’s weird when you look at it. He was a little boy looking for autographs. Now he’s out there pissing them off.”

And doing it better than most.

Back to his ability to agitate in a moment.

The photographic history of the family’s all-star trips was long featured on the bedroom walls of both Tkachuk boys, until a relatively recent move to a new house in the St. Louis suburbs relegated them to several of Chantal’s impeccably kept scrapbooks.

Everyone in the Tkachuk household has long agreed that growing up in an environment where the boys are comfortable mingling with the game’s elite has had a tremendous impact on their meteoric rise to the NHL.

It’s no coincidence both boys went straight from being high, first-round picks, to being everyday NHLers months later.

Matthew was named an all-star earlier this month, and Brady will now join him, replacing an injured Auston Matthews.

“(Matthew’s) very mature beyond his years and that environment of being there will give him a leg up of not being nervous,” said Keith.

“Whether he does some of the events or just being in the locker room with superstars, he’ll be fine. He’ll adjust pretty quickly.

“I think it showed the way they came into the league, the environment they were always put in. They’re not timid, yet they’re respectful in those instances.”

As wide-eyed as Matthew Tkachuk looks in the all-star pictures in which he ranges from age one to 12, it’s easy to imagine how much it means to him and the family that his first such game is in St. Louis – the place they all call home.

“I’m pumped for him – that’s the rink he grew up going to and skating at, sitting on the bench, watching practice,” said Keith, who played nine seasons with the Blues, with whom he now scouts.

“I think he’s more pumped for us. But for me, he gets to go play with guys he normally doesn’t get to play with in a great environment. You’re looked at as one of the better players in the league for having one of the better years. I’m happy for him. He’s worked hard to get it and it’s a bonus to do it in his hometown.”

It’s not unfathomable Tkachuk could continue to steal the spotlight all weekend, as he has the bulk of the last two weeks. His targeted blasts on Zack Kassian and subsequent refusal to fight the Oilers tough guy still has the hockey world talking.

After the two principles exchanged post-game barbs in the media, the nation has engaged in a heated debate over the nature of Tkachuk’s hits, and whether Tkachuk owes Kassian a dance. They meet again Jan. 29.

Drew Doughty said last year Tkachuk is the most hated man in hockey, putting him in territory rivalling superstar Brad Marchand.

Everyone has an opinion on one of the few characters in the game today.

All the while he has paced the Flames with 15 goals and a team-high 38 points, while continuing to draw more penalties than any NHLer since he joined the league.

So angered by Tkachuk’s latest antics, Oilers star Leon Draisaitl said last week he’d “probably get off the ice,” if Tkachuk was on the same trio as his during the all-star game’s three-on-three tourney.

We’ll see, as both are on the Pacific division all-star squad that also includes Flames teammates Mark Giordano and David Rittich, as well as Oilers star Connor McDavid.

None of it will faze Tkachuk, whose brother knows better than anyone that all the noise won’t affect Matthew this weekend.

“I just know from personal experience, always being around him, that he doesn’t let stuff bother him,” said Brady, 20.

“Sometimes, there’s a lot of negativity towards somebody, so to block that out and still play your game, it’s pretty impressive.”

The whole Tkachuk clan will be at this weekend’s events, which will include a good portion of the 40 friends and family members who traveled to Ottawa to see the two brothers face off against one another last Saturday.

Keith said Chantal is playing “Julie McCoy” as cruise director this week, organizing who when and where their visitors will be staying.

But come Friday and Saturday you can bet she’ll return to her role behind the camera, collecting more all-star memories for the collection.

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